Three weeks ago, we introduced our baby: CollegeSplits.com. Since then, it’s gone through a massive growth spurt: up from the sample of three teams we initially presented, the site now contains virtually every NCAA Division I player who has appeared in a game this season. That’s thousands of players on hundreds of teams, with more being added each week.
We’re as excited as ever about the research possibilities of having play-by-play data at the college level. At this point, however, it would be premature to launch into a disquisition about the best fielding shortstop in the Big Ten or the groundball tendencies of Vanderbilt’s pitching staff. We’ll do all that soon enough; meanwhile, here are some of the interesting things we’ve learned after adding the first thousand games to our database.
1. Division I is big.
The NL Central has a whopping six teams. NCAA’s Division 1 has 292. (We think. We’re not exactly sure.) That covers 31 divisions, from the mighty Big 12 to the considerably less mighty Colonial Athletic Association.
Last year, about 1,400 players had an at-bat or threw a pitch in the major leagues. In the minors? About 6,000. The Division I total is going to crack five figures, easy. We’re already pushing 7,500, and quite a few teams haven’t played their first game yet.
2. Commercialism is knocking, but it hasn’t come in yet.
When schools play weekend tournaments at high-profile locations, they’re competing at Minute Maid Park or Dr Pepper Stadium. For the most part, though, corporate naming hasn’t reached college baseball. Instead, ballparks are named after legendary coaches and other figures. Our favorite? Turkey Hughes Field at Eastern Kentucky University. We don’t know much about Hughes, but the park sounds like something out of a W.P. Kinsella novel.
Some other locales that inspire more thoughts of fresh-cut grass than telecom mergers are Jack Coombs Field (Duke), Max Bishop Stadium (Navy), Dale Mitchell Park (Oklahoma) and Jackie Robinson Stadium (UCLA).
3. Bench players are for sissies.
When we got the roster for the Coppin State Eagles, there were only 13 names. We figured it was incomplete.
We were wrong.
If it weren’t for its habit of using multiple pitchers per game, we’d say that Coppin State was advocating a return to the 19th century game. Certainly, it’s advocating flexibility. It’s not exactly working: Coppin State has been outscored 117-9 in its first seven games. We don’t foresee many Coppin players getting drafted, though they might draw interest from the Oakland Raiders.
4. Give us enough names, some of them are bound to be cool.
Once you sift through the hundreds of Ryans and Brandons, the NCAA promises a future of colorful names. Our top pick is Lancelot Lewis of Alabama State. There’s also the Texas Christian prospect Chance Corgan and the unforgettable Central Michigan catcher Dale Cornstubble.
Of course, there are plenty of familiar monikers as well. Drew Saberhagen, son of Bret, is a southpaw at Western Carolina. Luke Greinke, brother of Zach, is a right-handed pitcher at Auburn University. And Ernie Banks—unfortunately no, not related to that Ernie—is a first baseman at Norfolk State University.
5. We feel bad for Twian Wright, Clifford Stallworth, Roosevelt Clarke, John Town, Matthew Parker, Michael Powell, Derrick Price and Marcus Bryant.
Of the 17 players listed on Concordia College’s baseball roster, nine were denoted as either “players to watch” or “new top-notch recruit.” Not these eight. Perhaps they’d get more respect (and playing time) if they transferred to Coppin State.
By the way, that’s Concordia College in Alabama. There’s another one in Oregon. They both occasionally play Division I teams. Just thought you’d like to know.
6. For one division, there are sure a lot of No. 1 teams.
In any given week, dozens of teams probably can lay claim to the “No. 1″ title. Sort of, anyway. Several national polls carry some weight, and they don’t always agree—right now, you could give the leading nod to Rice, Vanderbilt or North Carolina, while South Carolina pops up an awful lot as No. 2. After that elite group are the leaders of some 31 conferences. I’m sure this is old hat for longtime aluminum fans, but when you see a half-dozen games per day in which one of the teams is calling itself numero uno, something seems amiss.
7. The level of play…varies.
One of the great things about baseball is that on any given day, any team can beat any other team.
Except in the NCAA. Sure, North Carolina and South Carolina could split weekend series all spring long, but when you give Prairie View A&M a non-conference doubleheader against Texas College, it’ll consistently make TC look like (sorry, guys) Coppin State. Two games, total score: 39-1. It’s odd to discover that those Red Sox-Boston College and Braves-Georgia Tech games aren’t the most lopsided contests of the spring.
More seriously, the lower overall level of play (especially outside of the top few dozen teams) means that anything can happen, and usually will. For instance, once Craig Counsell retires, we could see an entire major league season without a catcher’s interference. At the college level, we’ve already seen one game with four. The multipliers for errors, balks, passed balls and wild pitches aren’t quite so extreme as CI calls, but they’re pretty steep as well.
8. Mommas, do let your babies grow up to be left-handed Division 1 college pitchers.
Of the 4,500 or so pitchers in our database, only 1,300 are lefthanded. It’s well documented that, as hitters progress through tougher levels of competition, they see more lefties; it certainly wouldn’t hurt, especially among the lesser conferences, to up that population in college ball. If Terry Mulholland‘s track record is any indication, it’s a good career move.
Now, we don’t quite know how to classify two pitchers: Pat Venditte of Creighton and David Ricker of Maine. They’re ambidextrous. Venditte has been developing the talent since he was three years old, and so far this year, he’s been quite effective from both sides, once striking out batters from both directions in a single inning. Perhaps he’ll be the first professional AOOGY: Ambiguous One-Out Guy.